Book Review | Knitstrips: The World’s First Comic-Strip Knitting Book

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Full disclosure: I contributed one design to Knitstrips, the Instant Heirloom shawl, but apart from making the pattern IK-ready I had no involvement with the conception or production of this book whatsoever – I didn’t even see the proofs!  This review was written following my very first reading of Knitstrips, absorbing the book in its entirety, and with much anticipation.

TL; DR: Buy Knitstrips.  Scroll to the bottom to find links to online shops, or order it via your local bookstore or library.  These links are neither exhaustive nor sponsored.

Knitstrips: The World’s First Comic-Strip Knitting Book is by Alice Ormsbee Beltran and Karen Kim Mar, two talented knitters with an exceptional gift for visual communication.  If you have ever struggled with the traditional format of knitting patterns, or wondered what it would be like to reimagine knitting patterns and designs in an interactive format, read on!  Knitstrips is a fabulous fusion of familiar tropes, deftly combined with humour, wit, warmth, and wonder.

Like all decent books, Knitstrips is fully indexed.  The IK (Interactive Knitting; more about this later on) patterns are grouped into four issues or chapters: OMJOM (One More (Row), Just One More), Focus Pocus, STASH (Skeins That Are Special and Here), and Bucket List.  There are two indices for ease and convenience: a technique index, which is a colour-blocked table; and a pattern index, which recaps the beautiful illustrations for each design as an aide-memoire.  The 22 patterns are also easy to style, and include layering pieces, cowls, shawls, hats, socks, and a few dropped sleeve sweaters.  Many of the construction techniques are seamless, and those requiring sewing up are as painless as can be.

Speaking of which, kudos to the Knitstrips illustrators, Michele Phillips and Laura Irrgang: they are simply outstanding, and I can barely imagine how demanding and rewarding it must have been to deliver such superb work.  The comic-book illustrations adeptly walk the line between diagrams and photographs that really delivers, especially if you happen to have a strong preference for one or the other.  This clarity is the result of decades of mastering tone value, foreshortening and other awkward angles, and acute technical knitted detail – all captured in a range of skin tones, making Knitstrips representative and welcoming.  Personally, I also love the nail art featured on some of the hands!

One of my favourite features is the gauge page (pp. 8-9).  It is beautifully descriptive and evocative, and encourages you to really engage with the fabric you create on the needles.  With words such as lacy, airy, soft, medium, chewy, and stiff, it’s hard not to!  Readers already familiar with my blog will know how I feel about fabrication; those who are not, and who also have time for a diversion, can get stuck into this post and this post.

The flowchart (pp. 10-11) helping knitters to choose a project is genius.  A database or online interactive tool like this would be a knitter’s dream, if not something they didn’t realise they needed.  If you’re looking to choose a project based on how you’re feeling, as well as who or what you’re making it for, this map is a gift.  Time that all knitters spend sifting through image galleries and product descriptions is magicked away thanks to Alice and Karen’s diligent curation of the Knitstrips projects, empathy, and TLC.  It’s a pioneering move and a gesture to treasure as you work through the book.

Choosing a pattern based on how you’re feeling and what you want to get out of a project is also a sensitive and tacit way or acknowledging knitters who are neurodivergent or who craft to support their mental health, as I discussed last fortnight.  The comic strip format and visual language, both of which are easy to grasp, make the patterns more accessible to anyone who struggles with text-heavy formats, is more visually oriented, or is more adept at processing visual information.  Established comic strip lovers and knitters will be delighted at seeing two of their favourite things come together.  The consistent and complementary interdependence of words and images makes Knitstrips one of the finest examples of multimedia communication I have ever seen – within the world of knitting and outside it.

I warmly and strongly recommend Knitstrips to anyone who’s interested in knitting but not necessarily from a crafts background, or deterred by most patterns, formats and conventions – and that includes designers.  Over the years, I have heard from many knitters who are keen to publish patterns of their own but, for various and personal reasons, find the maths or industry standards difficult to take on board.  Or, as Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne put it in the foreword: “With Knitstrips Alice and Karen have opened up the wonderful world of knitting to visual learners who might have been deterred by the hidebound conventions of written patterns.”  If this applies to you, please let Alice and Karen know – and take a look at other IK patterns on MDK.com.

To exemplify this point – if not segue back to the review – there is no sizing system for IK patterns.  Instead, you are told which body measurements are the key to unlocking good fit, and the stated dimensions of your body work in combination with your unique gauge and chosen yarn to create your bespoke starting point for the IK pattern in question.  Basic arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) is used to derive stitch counts or cast-on stitches, and there is advice and guidance from each designer and the creators on fabrication and fit.  In this respect, Knitstrips is light years ahead of current thinking about achieving good fit, which uses sizing and schematic diagrams as a starting point for the maker to achieve this.  With IK, the maker, their gauge, and the fabric created with their chosen yarn form the starting point, so good fit is already more assured. 

For the Instant Heirloom shawl, I tapped into this philosophy by focusing on landmarks or body dimensions that held the key to the design’s success.  This allowed me the freedom to look at fit in a way that I would when pattern cutting for woven fabrics, and it really prompted me to think more deeply about why good fit can elude so many knitters, or be poorly understood.  (For more on that from a historic perspective, see ‘Framing Our Problems with Fit’, originally published in Moorit issue 1.)

This is revolutionary when you really think about it.  Time we knitters spend looking for a suitable yarn for a pattern we want to knit and aiming for a specific tension or gauge vanishes.  Instead, space is made for yarns and fibres that are stashed and homeless, waiting for the right project.  Knitstrips’ focus on fabrication matches the qualities of the yarn to the project without being overly specific – or causing stress by forcing the knitter to source new yarn.  Not only can you use what you have, you also know how to thanks to IK.  In the long term, this pioneering approach could have a major impact on – if not contribute to – economies of time and motion.  This is especially important when you consider the gender and socioeconomic profile of knitters; knitting is often a precious hobby, squeezed into precious pockets of time.  I wasn’t involved in the hardcore production of Knitstrips, but I have no doubt that the OMJOM pattern category – beautifully onomatopoeic, evoking knitters hungry for their WIPS – was first for a reason.

I still have the original email from Alice and Karen, sent about three-and-a-half years before this review’s publication, inviting me to contribute “a lace piece that is customizable and beginner-friendly”, and subsequent correspondence that has been a joy to revisit.  In that time, my hair has doubled in length since submitting my headshot, and the only solid indication of the love, dedication, and Herculean effort that Alice and Karen have put into “a book that’s on its own schedule” is a single speech bubble in the acknowledgements.  They describe Knitstrips as “having more movable parts than the Panama Canal” – and that’s how it feels when you’re breaking new ground and creating something entirely new.  It’s also a hallmark of excellent design.  You often don’t realise how well something is designed in situ because it works with you and embraces your humanity, multitudes and all.

Like Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne, I too am looking forward to the next Knitstrips book.  Tantalisingly, the final page hints at sweater ideas – and having seen the entire book, I am excited to wonder what Alice and Karen could dream up next, and how IK could make me a better designer.  I am looking at designs in-progress with fresh, excited eyes.  It remains for me to say that Knitstrips is the most fun, and the best knitting book I’ve ever had the pride and privilege of contributing to, let alone possessing – and I know that your copy will be just as precious.  Go and buy it! – or put it on your wish list 😊

Please support your local bookshop (if you have one) by ordering Knitstrips through them. If not, here are some online outlets:

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather says:

    I am so excited about this, I plan to immediately get a copy for my granddaughter who just turned 16! Happy Birthday, Ruby! “Stashed and homeless yarn”! So upsetting! Makes me want to start, like right now!, a project to use them up!
    In case you can’t tell, I think this sounds like a really exciting book! Thank you, Natalie, for this review. I am now going to run off to Amazon US! (Or is it Amazon U$$)?

    1. 😃 you’re welcome, Heather – and I hope Ruby enjoys her gift! Make sure you treat yourself to a copy, too 😇

  2. Susan says:

    That is brilliant and so inventive!! Congratulations to them and you for the review!

    1. Thank you Susan! 💐

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